Immigrants who once came to the United States for a better life are, in increasing numbers, taking their education and entrepreneurial spirit to places where there are more opportunities.
A new report from the Kauffman Foundation, an organization that specializes on entrepreneurial activity, finds that the number of high-tech, immigrant-founded startups in the United States has stagnated and is on the verge of decline.
The report blames this reverse brain drain on an unwelcoming immigration system. But there could be other reasons.
“When any country becomes wealthier and starts becoming a country of immigration, the first step toward that is the return of their own diaspora members” says Madeleine Sumption, senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
“China is now becoming a more attractive destination for people who have studied in the U.S. or in the U.K., for example,” she said.
In addition to the recent graduates, Ms. Sumption said experienced researchers are being enticed to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
“The Chinese government has actually put in place some policies to try to encourage diaspora researchers, particularly in the sciences, to go back to China by offering them access to newly established research labs and so forth,” said Ms. Sumption.
Ms. Sumption said there is a smaller, but growing, group of highly skilled workers born in the United States who are looking at opportunities offered by multinational companies in China.
This change in migration patterns has some benefits.
“One of the major effects is the opening up of trade and research cooperation between countries,” Ms. Sumption said. Another, she said, is that the surge in the number of students coming to the United States has added to the circulation of candidates for employment worldwide.
The other major Asian beneficiary of this reverse migration is India.
“The Indian government has put in place policies to make it easier for people of Indian origin to get working resident’s rights,” Ms. Sumption said. “And India reports more people who are interested in setting up tech startups are returning home.”
“We previously had a traditional model of people moving from developing countries to developed countries,” said Sumption. “Now people have more options when deciding where to take their skills.”
“For traditional destinations like the U.S., “said Ms. Sumption, “They may have to start to compete a little harder for some of these immigrants if they’re really worried about losing them.”